False False Memory


Recently, I drove oceanward on a small 2 lane highway leading, in a circuitous but ultimate way, to San Francisco. I passed an intersection which seemed familiar but also vague and unspecific. I puzzled and began to assemble a picture from fragments of memory. I had arrived in my new town 8 years ago and wanted to explore. I drove west on a country road towards the Coast Range through the rural flatness, curious only about where I was. After a few miles, I found myself in rolling hills with homes, children, pets and small farms. I was happy with this discovery, as my wife found the levelness of our new area depressing, and knew that my report of what lay nearby would cheer her. The road gradually turned and came to the very intersection I had just passed moments before.

Unfortunately, when I looked in the direction of this dimly recalled population, I saw only a thin forest of valley oaks and eucalyptus, no undulations, no  ersatz Shangrila in the depths of Yolo County. I now knew that there should only be flat farmland all the way to the mountains edge.  I had fought to put this puzzle together, and must have fused memories of events from long ago, perhaps in Salt Lake City, perhaps in Toronto. I had rationalized a sense of deja vu which, in reality, was false. I have a fertile imagination, and have done this before.

I had occasion to pass the same point several times since, and each time had the same unsettled feeling of having been there, went through the same process of assembling memories, came to the same depressing conclusion, and worried about the gradual decay of my brain. Then, a week ago, Laura accompanied me to the coast, and as we approached the intersection, I told her the story about my imaginings and poor memory. As we entered the intersection, I looked left. Previously, I had only done this after the fact. This time, I had a clear view up the exit road into the distance, and saw — rolling hills, houses, horses, children playing, with a sparse forest on both sides which fused after we passed into a green panel obscuring a remembered event I now know was real and unimagined.


My wife does not think my memory is bad, but she does think I am mad.

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